Ari Clark did it when he was 4 years old. It was all the motivation he needed.

"Since then, I haven't wanted to stop fishing," said Ari, now 9 and getting ready to fish in the Junior Bassmaster National Championship tournament.

"He's done a lot of fishing," said Ari's father, Jordan. "He's realizing that catching that 8-pounder was no easy feat, but that doesn't seem to dampen his enthusiasm. He wants to be a professional bass fisherman when he grows up."

Ari qualified for the national tournament by finishing in second place in the state junior tournament earlier this year at Tygart Lake. Junior anglers fish in teams, and Ari partnered with Bo Hollen during the competition.

"Bo was slaying the fish, so I figured we could at least finish second," Ari recalled. "We were catching a lot."

What Ari didn't realize was that both the first- and second-place teams would earn berths in the national competition Aug. 6-7 at Tennessee's Carroll County Thousand Acre Recreation Lake.

"It surprised me when they told me I'd be going to the nationals," he said.

On Aug. 3, Ari began the first of two days of practice at the lake, which is known for producing large bass.

"Last year, a 14-year-old kid caught a 14-pounder," Jordan said. "So maybe Ari will get a shot at another really big one."

Ari caught the 8-pounder on July 26, 2014 at a private pond near his Winfield home. Some anglers that young catch big fish on live bait, but not Ari. Using open-faced spinning tackle, he hooked the lunker largemouth on a Banjo Minnow lure and landed it on 6-pound-test line.

His mother, Heidi, said Ari practices his casting accuracy every day.

"He casts into a bucket," she said. "He does it for about 45 minutes at a time. He's very dedicated to improving his skills."

The practice paid off recently when Ari accompanied his father to a meeting in Canaan Valley. "They had activities for the kids, and one of them was a casting contest," Jordan said. "Ari finished second."

Ari also spends a lot of time fishing. Often, before starting his homeschool classes for the day, he heads to a nearby creek and gets in some early-morning action.

Whether all that preparation pays off in the national tournament is anyone's guess. Ari said he loves to compete and wants to finish first, but he's not going to worry about results.

"I expect to just have fun," he added. "That's why I fish, to have fun."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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